After coming back home and getting back into the swing of things, the idea that only three weeks ago I was part of a group engaging in an archaeological dig almost seems like a dream. Yet, I know that the experience was very real and I enjoyed every minute of it.
In addition to this experience we visited numerous caves such as Grotte du Mas d’Azil (Cave of Mas d’Azil) and observed the Magdalenian era artifacts in the Musée national de Préhistoire (National Museum of Prehistory), and as a result I learned a lot more about this prehistoric era and what life must have been like during this time period. The people in this era were nothing like the stumbling, bumbling image most people have of cavepeople. They were resilient; creating cave art in close, constricted areas despite not being able to see what they were drawing, carving and painting. Also, the figures that they chose to draw meant a lot to the lives of the people as one theory suggests that the animals that were drawn were representations of gods that the people believed in. Their creations whether cave art or carvings were highly detailed and artistic and the presentation of this art was breathtaking.
While the open – air site had more flint tools and burnt bone fragments, the discovery of these items was just as exciting and fulfilling as well when one realizes that their hard work allows for an artifact to be found. Add in the fact that we were surrounded by the beauty of Pyrenees, from the looming mountains to the rolling hills, and it just made the entire experience worth it.
The reason why this simple picture of the Basilique of the Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) speaks to me is because it represents the careful balance between preserving the past and living in the present that France seems to have figured out. The basilica was built in 1914 and consecrated in 1919, however the idea to build a basilica on Montmartre originated in 1870 after both a French defeat in the Franco – Prussian war and during the Paris Commune uprisings that lasted for a year. The belief at the time was that the French lost the Franco – Prussian war because God had abandoned them for their wicked ways and that by building a place of worship on the area known as the “Mount of Martyrs,” God would return to France and aid them in future wars. However, at the same time, many new inventions and concepts around math and science were being introduced to France at the same time. The fact that these two very different ideals could coexist so easily speaks to France’s ability to manage both the old and the new. Currently, the balance has to be struck between retaining rich history and keeping up with current technological advances; however the coexisting of different notions is something that comes up throughout the history of France. It is that coexistence of the past and the present that the Basilique of the Sacré Cœur reminds me of every time that I look at it.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
One of the many reasons why I was excited to embark on this journey throughout France even before the trip began was the ability for me to interact with the history and culture of the country. Quite a bit of the information that I have been engaging with during this trip is information that I have either learned and later forgotten or learned and remembered in classes or through reading and researching. However, the experience of being taught a topic on a PowerPoint or in a book pales in comparison to the possibilities that self – learning allows. For example, I was aware of the fact that 50,000,000 million people were casualties of World War II. However, being able to encounter a piece of that history by looking out at the burial sites in Caen made it all the more powerful. The fact that I could walk over to a grave and see the name, hometown, and date of birth and death, gave each of those soldiers a personal story that I’ll always keep in mind when talking about WWII now.
Another example is when we visited the Louvre. I had never seen the Mona Lisa in person though of course I had known about its marvelous prestige. When we reached the Louvre, I made a relative beeline to the Mona Lisa and after taking a few pictures of the famous painting, I just stared at it, attempting to take in each and every detail in my mind’s eye. From that experience, I was able to understand why the Mona Lisa is considered an impressive work of art while the rest of my visit to the Louvre made me ponder what made one work of art so significantly better than another. Questions such as, how do certain pieces of art reach higher levels of prestige than others, when all of the pieces of art are considered to be in the upper echelon and if the current method of viewing art is conducive to truly appreciating these works of art reverberated with me not only when I was in the Louvre, but in my quiet moments afterwards.
The point of this is to say when one is physically, intellectually, and emotionally engaged in learning, the ideas and concepts stick with you more effectively and the best way for one to engage in learning in all of these ways is to actively interact with the topics at hand. I wouldn’t be able to look at World War II from the eyes of a young soldier who is scared and just wants to come home or debate the merits of the current art viewing methods nearly as effectively as I can now because I have these memories to lean on. When you actively engage with what you’re learning, you care about it. Instead of just trying to remember statistics, dates, and details, I now care about what I have been learning on a deeper, more emotional level, which allows me to think about these topics on a deeper, more questioning level. I want to learn and being involved in the learning personally ensures that I will never forget it.
“If you are lucky enough to [go to] Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway
After only a couple of days to appreciate the beauty of Paris and all that it has to offer, I must concur with Ernest Hemingway. Even though his recollection of memories of Paris was derived from his time living in the city from 1921 to 1926, his description of the experience remains timeless. From the moment that we arrived in Paris, I was immediately enthralled by the different pace of the people of Paris and the classic design of the city. In comparison, American cities seemed much too fast and significantly younger. When we began visiting the numerous landmarks in Paris, I grew to love Paris even more. For example, I will never forget the experience of seeing the Eiffel Tower in person for the first time
or visiting the Piette Room and studying the prehistoric artifacts in the Musèe des Antiquities (Museum of Antiques). Only in Paris can I silently take in the wonder of the cathedral of Notre Dame
and look out on the rest of Paris from the rooftop of a castle.
Here, every smell and sight evokes emotion and allows me to learn from both our planned visits to museums and landmarks and from the casualness of walking down the sidewalk. We won’t be in Paris for much longer, so my time in this wondrous city is definitely marked. So when we are forced to leave Paris to continue our journey throughout the rest of France, I will take the lessons that I have learned from Paris and take it with me, as Hemingway would have wanted. Paris is indeed a moveable feast and I hope to take a small part of it with me wherever I go now.
Believe it or not, I’m not nervous at all yet. I’ve never been out of the country before, today is the big day and for some reason, I’m not nervous about anything right now. I’m more excited than anything else actually. I’m excited to finally be going to France. I’m excited to learn more about a culture that I honestly don’t know that much about. I can’t wait to get involved with archeology, which is another experience that I have never had before. The idea of visiting all of the marvelous museums in France, two fourteenth century towns, and a twelfth century castle absolutely blows my mind.
I’m even more eager to work on my history project throughout the course of the trip. My project will consist of developing a journal from the perspective of a time traveler from the future as he visits each time period that we visit. This is not the typical format of a history project, so the fact that I am able to work on a more creative based project makes this a different challenge for me than what I usually encounter at PA. The challenge of this project is just one of many experiences that I am more than ready to gain.